is it Worth the Risk?
“The paramedics found the 17-year old’s phone still in his hands and his head in the back seat. Isn’t texting fun?” This was a recent Facebook post with a picture of a car underneath a big rig with the top of the car completely gone. On average, 11 teens die every day in distracted driving crashes involving texting. More than one-quarter of all traffic accidents involve texting while driving. Teenagers may be the biggest offenders because they believe there are invincible. Distracted driving can be anything from reaching for your phone, changing the music, using an app, checking your GPS or map, taking a photo, checking email or posting to social media sites, eating and drinking, putting on makeup or combing your hair, arguing, reaching for something on the floor or back seat. The list is endless. The Department of Transportation stated that when a person who is driving sends a text message, they are taking their eyes off the road for approximately five seconds. When traveling at 55 miles per hour, they would cover the distance of a football field. Realistically, no matter how many times we are told not to look at our phone, don’t text, etc., it is very difficult to do. Unless drivers are in an accident or a close call due to distracted driving, some people aren’t going to change their habits despite the data provided or the stories they hear or the pictures they see. However, having the facts and education does affect some people, and they will change their behavior once they have the information. Others will wait until there are laws in place and finally there are those that will need to be caught and penalized before changing. Smartphones seem to be the biggest cause of distracted driving among young drivers. Why can’t phone manufacturers create an app or a tool that will shut down the phone while it is moving? If the phone can calibrate your compass while making a figure eight, then it can shut down your phone using the same technology. Distractions happen in a split second. I am as guilty as everyone else. My phone buzzes and I catch myself looking down. Now I choose not to have access to the phone, and any call or text can wait. I’ve placed my phone in the back seat, so I’m not tempted to reach for it, but even that thought is a distraction when I’m driving. I drive a manual transmission car, so I have to shift. Driving a stick doesn’t allow a free hand with which to text. Maybe parents shouldn’t purchase automatic cars for their teenagers, but instead purchase a manual. It teaches the teenager how to drive a stick shift, and because the driver is using both hands, it eliminates texting. The automobile industry can help eliminate some of the distracted driving. Some cars have the availability to track and stop distracted driving with Bluetooth or GPS systems. Car companies offer a navigation screen to answer calls, reading text messages aloud and the driver can dictate responses and even eye-tracking technology that can sense when a driver is looking at their phone, as well as an app to silence incoming text when the car is moving. We are moving in the right direction, but it still isn’t enough because the technology also presents a cognitive distraction and new drivers need complete concentration when driving. Even though all of these tools help to eliminate distracted driving, we may have to wait for autonomous cars before eradicating distracted driving accidents, and that can’t come soon enough.
I live on a very busy street. There are numerous cars, but also runners, bike riders, and even horses that travel my street on a daily basis. Preoccupied drivers are everywhere, however, when there are people and animals on the street, it becomes much more dangerous. Before I moved to the street, an 18-year-old male driver killed a little boy who lived in the house across from mine. I don’t know if distracted driving was the cause of his death, but it would seem most likely since visibility is very good with no trees or bushes obscuring a driver’s view as well as being a straight, flat road. When I was a freshman, four seniors from a neighboring high school were traveling at too high a speed, listening to the radio and having a fun time until the driver’s attention was diverted and he ran off the road straight into a tree. Two of the four students died and the other two, one of them being the driver, will live with the knowledge that his inattentive driving killed his friends.